Amid growing concerns between Hamas and Israel, incoming rocket sirens were activated Tuesday night shortly after Israeli Air Force struck targets in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Israeli fighter jets struck several targets in the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis, including a military compound and a weapons manufacturing site belonging to Hamas, the military said.
The attack was carried out in response to the launching of a rocket from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory and the launching of incendiary and explosive balloons.
Moments after airstrikes, a rocket was fired from Gaza towards the industrial park south of the city of Ashkelon, the army said.
According to reports in Hebrew media the rocket was intercepted over the city, but unconfirmed reports said it fell in open territory causing no damage or casualties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who landed back in Israel in the late afternoon from Washington after cutting his trip short, met with senior security officials at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv shortly after addressing the AIPAC policy conference via a satellite connection.
IDF rocket hits Hamas building in Gaza, March 26, 2019 (Reuters)
“We responded with great force,” he said. “In the last 24 hours, the IDF destroyed major Hamas terrorist installations on a scale not seen since the end of the military operation in Gaza four years ago.”
At the same time as diplomatic efforts were taking place with the UN and Egypt acting as mediators between Israel and Hamas, the IDF said it was sending more troops to the Gaza border and approved the call-up of additional reserve forces.
The decision to send additional infantry and artillery battalions to the South was made following a situation assessment led by Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
According to a senior government official, Israel has not agreed to a ceasefire, and the fighting could erupt at any time.
“There is no agreement on a ceasefire,” he said. “The fighting is liable to be renewed at any moment, and it was decided to reinforce forces and prepare for a continuation.”
Kochavi also approved completing the summoning of additional reserve soldiers and canceled the exchange of IDF battalions in multiple regions that had been scheduled for later this week.
On Tuesday evening, incoming rocket sirens were activated in the South. A projectile landed in an open field, causing neither injury nor damage.
Earlier in the evening the IDF began lifting roadblocks, and trains resumed their service in the South following a day of relative quiet on the southern front.
According to UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, his team has been “working intensely with Egypt and all concerned parties to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control.”
Speaking during a briefing to the UN Security Council, he added, “Nobody has an interest in a full military confrontation in Gaza.”
Islamic Jihad official Khader Habib said Netanyahu was refusing to admit that a ceasefire had been reached in order to appear as a strongman to Israelis.
“Netanyahu is trying to portray himself as a hero to his people, therefore he publicly denies the understanding reached with the Egyptians,” Habib said. “Resistance factions are committed to calm as long as the enemy abides by it.”
On Tuesday night, armed with signs and flags, about 100 Sderot residents gathered at the entrance to the city to protest what they called the government’s “non-policy” on rocket fire from Gaza.
The latest escalation between Hamas and Israel began Monday morning when a long-range J-80 missile launched from Rafah in the southern part of the Strip destroyed a civilian home 120 km. away in the central community of Mishmeret, wounding seven members of one family and a neighbor.
Terrorists fired over 60 rockets into the South and the IDF carried out hundreds of strikes in Gaza overnight.
Fighter jets, combat helicopters, tanks and naval vehicles struck on Tuesday morning additional terrorist targets in a military compound belonging to Hamas in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, as well as a military compound belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Beit Lahiya, the IDF said.
IDF tanks and attack helicopters and naval vessels also targeted several Hamas posts.
“The Hamas terrorist organization is responsible for all the goings on in and out of the Gaza Strip. The IDF is determined to carry out the task of protecting the citizens of Israel and is prepared for various scenarios and intensifying its operations as necessary,” the army said.
Incoming rocket sirens blasted throughout Sderot and the regional councils of Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon and Sha’ar Hanegev, as at least 30 rockets were fired toward Israel between 10 p.m. Monday and 3:15 a.m Tuesday, after Hamas said it had accepted the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which would have begun at 10 p.m.
NEW RIGHT leader Naftali Bennett called on Netanyahu to convene a meeting of the cabinet and take action to “neutralize Hamas.”
“Israel cannot surrender to Hamas again,” Bennett said. “This is the 10th round in the past year. Hamas directly hit a family in the center of the country, shot dozens of rockets at the towns by the Gaza border and held 200,000 students, teachers and parents hostage at home today. We, on the other hand, shot at some empty buildings and didn’t even kill one terrorist.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said this wasn’t a ceasefire but a total collapse of Israeli deterrence, damaging to the security of Israel’s citizens and a total loss of the sense of security.
“I will never be a partner to defeatist policies, which is why I resigned from the government several months ago,” he said.
MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties said he doesn’t understand how someone who is a resident of the South could think of voting for Netanyahu after this.
“Netanyahu’s failed behavior can lead to the end of right-wing rule,” he said. “So whoever doesn’t have an option to vote for the Left, strengthen the real Right.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that “rumors of a ceasefire are incorrect” and that Israel “will continue to exact a very heavy price from Hamas for its attacks on Israeli citizens.”
A home in Sderot suffered a direct hit by a rocket on Monday night but there were no injuries.
The Home Front Command published updated guidelines for residents in the Gaza border region Tuesday morning, restricting gatherings of more than 300 people in closed spaces across the Gaza border communities. Schools in the region, as well as in Ashkelon, Ofakim, Netivot and the regional councils of Bnei Shimon, Merhavim and Hof Ashkelon had also been canceled.
Israel began its retaliatory strikes at around 5:20 p.m., striking Hamas targets in Shati, Beit Hanoun, Shejaia and other locations throughout the Gaza Strip. The targets included military compounds, tunnel shafts that were used to transport weapons, military positions and rocket-launching positions.
Another target struck by Israeli jets was the offices of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood, as well as a building that served as an office for military meetings and as the headquarters of Hamas’s internal security forces.
The IDF said another target was a three-story building that served as Hamas’s “secret headquarters,” where terrorists belonging to the security and intelligence divisions of the organization were located.
“We don’t want war, but if Israel wants it then what should we do? We ask our factions to respond,” said Gaza City resident Mohammad Sayed, 40. “But we hope Egypt reaches a deal to end this.”
The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that three Palestinians were wounded in the Israeli strikes and had been transported to al-Shifa Hospital for medical treatment.Lahav Harkov and Reuters contributed to this report.